Take a look at Macy’s best-selling holiday gifts of 1948—which LIFE compiled, along with the number of each item sold and at what price—and it’s immediately apparent that things have changed since then.
For starters, the gifts then skewed more toward the practical. Such everyday items as a pair of nylons or a ballpoint pen, the department store’s third- and fourth-highest-selling items that season, may ignite little excitement in today’s gift receiver, who has been conditioned to want little more than the latest Apple product. Second, there is a conspicuous absence of anything technological, whereas nearly seven decades later, more than two thirds of holiday shoppers plan to purchase electronics for their loved ones.
Then again, the rise of personal technology was still decades away, as these were the days when fewer than 10% of households even had a TV set. Rather than instruments of entertainment, gift-givers wrapped up objects that were wearable or edible, and immediately usable: a pair of pajamas, a bottle of scotch or that perennial favorite, some sturdy slippers. Basic, to be sure—but sure to be put to frequent use.
Handkerchief, 300,000, 33 cents apiece.
Christmas card sets, 100,000, 47 cents a set.
Nylons, 15 Denier, 77,000, $1.38 a pair.
Ball-point pen, 60,000, 92 cents a pen.
Men’s blue shorts, 50,000, 69 cents a pair.
Men’s wool socks, 40,000, 94 cents a pair.
White cotton shirt, 30,000, $1.98 each.
Striped pajamas, 30,000, $2.77 a pair.
Macy’s brand scotch, 30,000, $4.99.
Simulated pearls, 30,000, $2.77 a rope.
Child’s blue panties, 25,000, 64 cents a pair.
Rayon satin tie, 21,300, $1.41 a piece.
Suzy Perfume, 20,000, $4.19 a quarter-ounce.
Leatherette handbag, 20,000, $2.98 each.
Canisters with candy, 20,000, $3.69 a set.
Rayon slippers, 18,000, $2.34 a pair.
Leather jewel box, 17,000, $4.98 each.
Strauss waltz album, 16,000, $1.99.
(Photos: Nina Leen—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)